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My two-day lapse in posting is due to either painfully slow connections or nonexistent internet access. It's now February 26, 2010 (my birthday), 11:00PM Hanoi time, and I'm just back from a reception with the U. S. Ambassador to Vietnam, and a late dinner.  Tomorrow's early AM flight to Ho Chi Minh City means I won't have time to post anything later tonight or early in the morning; however, I was able to upload one of the several videos I shot during today's emotional reunion between Governor Joe Kernan and the villagers who were at the scene when he was shot down 38 years ago -- including some who tried to kill him, and some who helped save his life. This has been one of the most profoundly emotional days of my life and a birthday I'll never forget.

You will see in the attached video: the then-7-year-old boy (man in white t-shirt) and his family who were in a bomb shelter under their home at the time Joe landed unconscious in their yard; the man whom it's believed may have actually shot Joe down (with the beret hat); the man (in the green shirt) who was, himself, in the Vietnamese army at the time, and whose father -- because he had a son in the Vietnamese army -- helped whisk Joe away from the angry villagers who were trying to beat him; and other villagers who were on the scene in 1972 and who remember both the incident -- and Joe Kernan -- very clearly.

I hope to be able to post more tomorrow (fingers crossed for a faster connection in Ho Chi Minh City) including exclusive video of Governor Joe and Maggie Kernan being interviewed by the Vietnamese media, and the extremely emotional reaction of some of the group as they met and reminisced about the event that took place in their tiny village over a quarter century ago.

Vietnam is a vastly different place then it was even 15 years ago when I was last here. However, the Vietnamese people are the same warm, kind, friendly, respectful and cheerful people I remember. The compassion many of these villagers showed Joe Kernan after he was shot down, and the warm and emotional welcome he and Maggie received from them today, are a testament to their inherent goodness.

As this country moves rapidly forward into an unknown but surly exciting future for all it's people, that inherent goodness will be the bedrock upon which generations of Vietnamese children will build their own lives. And no country deserves such a brighter future more then Vietnam.

More tomorrow from Ho Chi Minh City.

Hanoi, Vietnam
26 February 2010

NOTE: The past two days have been packed with activity, including a detailed briefing by the Deputy U.S. Ambassador to Vietnam, and other embassy officials, conducted at the U.S. Embassy in Hanoi, dinner at the home of one of Hanoi's best-known chefs, and a day and night on a private Indochina Sails junk sailing around the stunningly beautiful and truly magical Halong Bay.

I'd like to personally thank Mike Cloonan, CEO of the phenomenal Innovative Immersions, for the outstanding itinerary he's put together for Governor Kernan and our group. (Our complete itinerary, with photos of a previous trip to Vietnam by Mike, is currently posted on Mike's corporate website)

 
 
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Vietnam is seeking UNESCO recognition for the central area of the Ancient Thang Long-Hanoi Royal Citadel as a world cultural heritage site.  This year, Hanoi has joined the Club of 1000-Year-Old Cities, and the city is full of beautiful decorations in celebration.

We spent most of the day visiting the two sites where Joe was held as a POW: the infamous Hanoi Hilton, and the 'Zoo'.  These were emotional visits for Joe and Maggie, both. I've included some photos below. (My internet connection is very slow and it's hard to find the time to upload the material, but I'm hoping to also upload at least one brief video.)

One of the more interesting developments today, was meeting "Mr. Duyet", who was the 'Chief Guard' at the Hanoi Hilton while Joe was imprisoned there. (He is in the black suit in the photos below)  There were also a number of other Vietnam vets who were visiting these two sites, as well.

At the site of the 'Zoo', which is under construction of a high-rise office building and movie theater, the guards attempted to get us to leave.  Luckily, once the owner of the project (the exclusive importer and distributor of American movies) was informed we were poking around the site, he not only allowed the visit, but also invited us up to his office nearby where we sat around a large conference table and discussed Joe's visit.

Hanoi, Vietnam
22 Feb 2010

 
 
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Thirteen and a half hours non stop, from los Angeles to Seoul, South Korea --  where I met up with Brad Queisser, who flew in from Washington, DC. We had a three hour layover, and then a five-hour flight from Seoul to Hanoi, Vietnam. 

Before today, I'd never been to Korea, or even passed through the Seoul airport, which is uber modern, but my brief taste left me hungering for more exposure to Korea one day.  I can highly recommend flying on Korean Airlines. Excellent service, very friendly staff eager to be helpful, and very respectful.

We arrived in Hanoi around 10:30PM local time, and it's now nearly 1AM Monday morning, February 22nd. 

In the fifteen years since I'd last been to Vietnam, many things have changed.  The Hanoi airport is now more modern, and the Communist bureaucracy that plagued the airport when I was first here is gone.  Baggage was fast and we walked right out to meet our guide.  The airport is about 35 minutes from downtown Hanoi and the drive gave Brad and me time to meet another couple who'd arrived from South Bend, and our guides. A light mist and cool temps.  A beautiful night.

Off to bed, gotta get up early.

And that's the way it looks from Hanoi, Vietnam!

 
 
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My second trip to Vietnam after an initial visit in 1995 (shortly after President Clinton opened the country to US visitors) will be particularly special -- and most likely emotionally charged.  I'll be with former Indiana Governor Joe Kernan and Maggie, and a small group accompanying them, as Gov Kernan returns to Vietnam for the first time since he was shot down and held captive as a POW nearly 38 years ago.

It's not hard to imagine what Joe Kernan must have endured during his long captivity. We've all heard the horror stories of what it was like in the POW camps during the Vietnam War-- especially at the notorious "Hanoi Hilton", where Joe was held.  But I've long wondered how this kind and good man, so young in 1972, dealt with the horror of being shot out of the sky, the resulting serious injuries and then his imprisonment. How he remained mentally and physically strong.

Imagine: the Vietnam war is raging, Joe gets shot down, lands in a neighborhood of people who'd been bombed and is immediately surrounded by villagers who strip him and begin beating him - he was literally saved by the militia.  Once he was imprisoned, he learned that the Navy thought he was dead. The fear became that the Vietnamese would have no reason to keep him alive.

Meanwhile, his sisters, brother, mom and dad -- and beloved Maggie -- were lead to believe he was dead.

Joe has never really spoken much about his ordeal as a POW.  This trip will be very special for him, and for Maggie; it will be an emotional return to a time in their lives that I can't even fathom going through.  I wish his dad and mom were still alive to go with him.

As I write this, it's 5AM. I've decided to stay awake all night trying to get caught up, and in the hopes I'll be able to more easily go to sleep shortly after takeoff from Los Angeles en route to Seoul later this morning.

If time permits, and internet connections are good, I'm going to try to write about our trip and post to my blog. If you'd like to read a much more professional perspective on Joe and Maggie's trip to Vietnam, the South Bend media is covering it in a series here.

I'm honored to be able to be with Joe and Maggie on this momentous visit to Vietnam.



* Photo: Courtesy of the South Bend Tribune. Joe Kernan 3rd From Left.